Action movies remain one of the most reliable genres in Hollywood. Bad comedies are unwatchable if the jokes don’t work, and poor horror is dull if the scares aren’t there. But an action movie usually has one or two scenes that make these types of films watchable. Frankly, most of them are entertaining. Who doesn’t love to watch highly choreographed fights, elaborate shootouts, and death-defying stunts?
Thanks to streaming, many of the underseen and underappreciated action films of the 2000s are now finding new audiences. Whether they opened during a crowded weekend at the box office or received mixed reviews, these undervalued action movies continue to improve with time. Check out these seven underrated action movies from the 2000s.
The Rundown (2003)
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What is Dwayne Johnson’s best movie outside The Fast and Furious franchise? The Scorpion King? No. Moana? No, because Moana is a Disney movie, not a Johnson movie. Skyscraper? No, but it’s a good film to watch on a flight. Black Adam? You know the answer to that. Johnson is undeniably an A-lister, but he’s not a movie star like Harrison Ford or Tom Hanks. The Rock headlines movies, but he doesn’t appear in the right roles.
I mention all this to say Johnson’s best role outside of Luke Hobbs is Beck in The Rundownthe 2003 action comedy directed by Peter Berg. Thanks to his time in WWE, Johnson has three things you can’t teach: charisma, athleticism, and a big smile. The Rundown uses these strengths to create a fun buddy comedy. The chemistry between Johnson and co-star Seann William Scott is fantastic. Aside from his fight with Vin Diesel in Fast FiveJohnson’s fight scene against Ernie Reyes Jr. is the best of his career. Here’s to Johnson using his power to greenlight a sequel.
Rent The Rundown on Prime Video.
S.W.A.T. does not reinvent the wheel for cop thrillers, but that’s not a bad thing. The strength of S.W.A.T. is that it plays like a well-made police drama. Before he worked with the Avengers as Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson led the LAPD SWAT team as Hondo. Joining Hondo on the team are Street (Colin Farrell), Deke (LL Cool J), Boxer (Brian Van Holt), Chris (Michelle Rodriguez), and TJ (Josh Charles).
The SWAT team is tasked with escorting a high-profile drug kingpin to prison. However, the kingpin offered a $100 million reward to anyone that frees him from custody, so naturally, the SWAT team will have to fend off a few enemies. The training montages are successful sequences, and the eventual shootouts are well-paced and exciting. If you’re going to watch one thing from S.W.A.T., make it the fight between Farrell and Renner at the railyard.
Rent S.W.A.T. on Prime Video.
Man on Fire (2004)
It feels wrong putting Tony Scott on an underrated list, considering he’s directed Top Gun, Crimson Tideand Enemy of the State. However, Scott’s Man on Fire is often overlooked when examining the best films of the director’s filmography. Based on the novel by A. J. Quinnell, Denzel Washington stars as John Creasy, a former CIA officer, now alcoholic, who plans on killing himself. Creasy takes a job as the bodyguard of a young girl named Pita (Dakota Fanning), the daughter of a Mexican automaker.
After failing to kill himself, Creasy finds purpose in his life again through Pita, as he bonds with the young girl, becoming a father figure in the process. When Pita is abducted, Creasy goes full psycho to catch her abductors. This is when Man on Fire becomes a Tony Scott action movie. From loud explosions and slow-mo walkways to aerial footage and brutal killings, Man on Fire does not let the audience come up for air once Creasy goes on his manhunt. If you’re looking for the informal sequel, check out The Equalizer 3 with Washington and Fanning in September 2023.
Stream Man on Fire on HBO Max.
Can a movie be underrated if it was nominated for two Oscars? In the case of Collateralit can be. Michael Mann’s action thriller stars Jamie Foxx as Max Durocher, a hardworking Los Angeles cab driver looking to start a limousine company. Before he calls it a night, Vincent (Tom Cruise) offers Max $600 to make five stops. Needing the money, Max accepts, and the night from hell begins. Vincent is a hitman, forcing Max to drive him around the city to kill his targets. Collateral is one of the best films set in Los Angeles due to Mann’s distinct visuals and exhilarating sequences.
Collateral’s success rests on the backs of the terrific performances from Foxx and Cruise. Collateral is neither Foxx’s nor Cruise’s defining performance, but Max and Vincent should be in their respective top fives. Foxx, who received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination, thrives in this dramatic, reserved role. However, Cruise’s performance is the biggest takeaway from Collateral and a reminder that Hollywood’s last movie star is one of its finest actors.
Stream Collateral on Netflix or Paramount Plus.
16 Blocks (2006)
Bruce Willis became an icon in the action genre thanks to his loudmouth, outlaw-type characters in Die Hard, Armageddonand The Fifth Element. However, 16 blocks is not the typical action movie you’d expect Willis to star in. In the film, Willis plays Jack, an aging, alcoholic NYPD detective tasked with escorting a witness, Eddie Bunker (Mos Def), to a courthouse 16 blocks away. Eddie is testifying on a case that will expose police corruption within the force. Frank’s colleagues are involved in the corruption scandal and attempt to kill Eddie until Frank intervenes.
16 Blocks becomes a buddy action thriller the rest of the way, as Frank and Eddie work together to stay alive and reach the courthouse on time. However, 16 Blocks is much quieter and more grounded than Die Hard. Willis is not acting like a cowboy, repelling down the side of skyscrapers and killing every terrorist in his path. It’s a slower, more reserved version of Willis that’s met with positive results, and his chemistry with Mos Def creates an effective action thriller.
Rent 16 Blocks on Prime Video.
Let’s set the scene. It’s 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night. The primetime show or movie just ended, so you need something to watch before bed. You’re flipping through the channels because you still have cable. Suddenly, Mark Wahlberg appears on your screen as he takes out a helicopter with one bullet. If this exact scenario has happened in your life, then you would know the movie I’m referring to is Shooter.
Wahlberg stars as Bob Lee Swagger, a retired Marine and expert sniper brought in by government officials to prevent an assassination attempt against the President of the United States. However, Swagger is double-crossed and framed for the murder of an Ethiopian archbishop, leading to a nationwide manhunt. Innocent and angry, Swagger takes matters into his own hands, exacting his revenge on the high-ranking officials that framed him for murder. Shooter is not going to win any awards. Nor does it deserve them. However, it’s the type of mindless entertainment needed at the end of a long day. It’s a violent, satisfying, entertaining action movie that provides a necessary escape from reality.
Stream Shooter on Netflix.
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
Everything I said about Tony Scott for Man on Fire remains true for The Taking of Pelham 123. Remaking the 1974 version, a film that many hail as a classic, was a daunting task, but Scott is not an ordinary filmmaker. He manages to put his own spin on the film, so much so that it does not even feel like a remake. It’s darker and weirder than the original, and times, off the rails. Yet, Denzel Washington holds the film together with a stoic, committed performance.
Washington plays Walter Garber, an MTA train dispatcher who receives a call from Ryder (John Travolta), a criminal who hijacks a subway and takes the passengers hostage. Ryder demands $10 million in cash within 60 minutes, or he will kill one hostage for every minute it’s late. Garber becomes the de facto negotiator since Ryder enjoys conversing with him over the radio. Travolta is past the point of no return as the villain, giving a borderline ridiculous performance. Yet, his over-the-top nature works because it perfectly mixes with Washington’s grounded performance. It’s an interesting and enjoyable rewatch that’s worth your time.
Stream The Taking of Pelham 123 on Starz or rent from Prime Video.